Efforts to Impeach Judges Hit New High in 2011

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Facing a toxic atmosphere and familiar claims of activism from the bench, judges have faced more impeachment attempts in 2011 than in any previous year in recent history, according to a state courts publication.

Gavel to Gavel, published by the National Center for State Courts, said Tuesday that more than a dozen bills were introduced in state legislatures around the country seeking to bounce judges from the bench for controversial decisions.

The issue of activist judges has become an issue in the GOP presidential primary, with Newt Gingrich telling voters that the president should ignore certain U.S. Supreme Court rulings and that judges should be hauled before Congress to explain their decisions

In 2011, 14 bills were introduced in seven states to remove judges, according to Gavel to Gavel. So far, none of the legislation aimed at removing judges have been successful.

[This year] saw more efforts to impeach or otherwise legislatively remove state judges from office than at any point in recent history, indeed perhaps in all of U.S. history, Gavel to Gavel's Bill Raftery wrote. In all but two instances... the sole accusation was that the judges in question issued opinions that displeased members of the legislature.

In Iowa, the state Supreme Court's unanimous 2009 ruling paving the way for same-sex marriage -- perhaps the most controversial decision in recent history -- prompted impeachment efforts for four justices. The impeachment process began this year after voters in 2010 tossed from the state high court three justices who were up for retention votes.

The threat by five legislators to impeach the state Supreme Court justices is not only a sad attempt to misuse the impeachment process for political gain, but completely out of touch with Iowans, Justice Not Politics, a group dedicated to removing politics from Iowa courts, said in an April statement.

A Republican Oklahoma lawmaker in January tried to pass a resolution asking Congress to impeach U.S. District Court Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange for abuse of authority after she issued an injunction on a voter-approved ban on Sharia, or Islamic law.

While criticism of an out-of-control judiciary is often launched from conservative circles, Democrats also tried to impeach judges this year over controversial rulings.

A black Democratic Missouri lawmaker launched impeachment proceedings against a state judge who had a nomination to the federal bench up for confirmation. Former state Circuit Court Judge John A. Ross, who now sits on U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, was accused of judicial activism and racially and sexually discriminatory orders in a case involving an ambulance and fire protection board for a majority-black district.

While high-profile decisions often prompt cries of constitutional violations and an out-of-control judiciary, there were two judges who faced impeachment over alleged misconduct.

Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Judge Willis W. Berry Jr. is accused of using his office and legal secretary to assist in day-to-day operations of his property. Oklahoma District Judge Tammy Bass-LeSure is facing 32 felony counts of fraudulently seeking reimbursement claims and four counts of perjury.

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